Content policy changes – May 27, 2016

Hello everyone –

Recently, we had a large number of our users express concerns about our content policy – in particular, concerns regarding underage furry characters in sexual situations being permitted under the current rules. As the issue rapidly became prominent in social media, we saw a huge number of differing opinions on the subject in both directions. We realized the impact the subject matter has on our community, and wanted to make sure we took the time to hear everyone’s voice, and come to a decision that was in the best interest of the community as a whole.

Our Core Values

One of Furry Network’s core values is in involving the community, and in taking on feedback on how the site is built and run, because Furry Network was built for our community. There are a lot of great ideas and very intelligent people out there – and we’ve discovered that the key to success is to keep our ears open, take notes, and make a well-reasoned decision that considers all factors.

We always listen to feedback – no matter how it is expressed – but are aware that, for controversial decisions, the most emotionally charged ones are often not the most reliable when it comes to reasoning and making a sensible choice. Our style of decisionmaking is founded upon making well-researched, factually backed, objective decisions that are fair and considerate – and in this case, this meant soliciting and analyzing feedback over the next 24 hours, particularly from individuals who stated their case maturely and respectfully. Thank you to everyone who sent in (or publically stated) their position on this – including those who voted on the support request thread.

At its core, the issue at hand is that for a significant portion of our user base, underage furry characters in sexual situations (typically referred to as “Cub Porn”) was a significant ‘deal-breaker’ for being a part of Furry Network, for a number of reasons, and as such, is something we must exclude.

How we arrived at our decision

At the beginning of the site’s development, we understood the issue at hand as the one most often stated to us: that users did not wish to see this type of content or otherwise be inadvertently exposed to it. Based on this, we had prepared a technical solution – a “default blacklist”, which automatically hides extreme content (including cub porn) from all users, unless specifically enabled in their content settings. This hadn’t gone live yet, but was scheduled to be deployed alongside completion of our new Code of Conduct and Acceptable Upload Policy this week. When we were initially designing and implementing the site, the feedback we’d received indicated that users were broadly happy with this ‘default blacklist’ arrangement, and that it’d be adequate for their needs.

However, given our recent increase in size and user base, the demographics of the users of the site have changed significantly – and has grown to include professional illustrators, artists, and participants of all tastes, ages and backgrounds. With this change has come a difference in perspective and opinion on what our users are comfortable with or not – and in the concerns reported.

By far the most-reported concern recently was people’s discomfort in knowing that the content is permitted and present on the site (even if they can’t see it), and legitimate concerns about being guilty by association or otherwise directly associated with it, particularly through ‘outing’ actions by its vocal detractors. Furry Network is a site which is intended to aid the fandom’s growth and evolution, and to lead to a better future for the community as a whole (See our formal mission statement) – and as such, this concern is one that no technical solution could solve.

The second most-reported concern was that banning said content would be a failure of Furry Network to protect artistic freedom, to allow a “small but vocal group of people” to dictate the rules, and as a heavy-handed political solution to a problem that could be solved via technology (eg, a default blacklist). As a site dedicated to encouraging creative expression, banning this content would be a ‘loss’ for artistic freedom, and a move towards a ‘nanny state’.

We also considered many other factors as part of our decision – you can read more about them at the end of this document (see “Factors we considered”).

As responsible site owners, it’s our job to balance the needs of all participants in the community as well as the site itself – and to always make great decisions that are in the best interests of the site and the community. With this, we decided that the best course of action is to not permit this type of content to be uploaded or present on Furry Network.

 

What happens next

Effective immediately, our moderation team will be removing all mature or explicit-rated cub content from Furry Network, and updating our Code of Conduct and Acceptable Upload Policy to reflect these changes. In addition, we will be clarifying via our support and community outreach channels that this content is not permitted on Furry Network – as well as dedicating additional resources towards responding to content flagged via our “Flag Submission” tool. For those affected who may have uploaded artwork to Furry Network and do not have a backup copy of the submission, our support team will be available to recover the deleted images for a period of 14 days. You can contact them via our support site.

Screenshot 2016-05-27 20.12.51.png

We’re setting a goal of Monday to finish removing this content from Furry Network, and have already taken steps to remove submissions that our moderators were able to locate. If you’d like to help us out, then we encourage all members of the community to use the “Flag” tool present on each submission page to report content which they believe contains underage furry characters in a sexual situation, choosing the “Other” flag reason and entering “Cub porn”. We’ve also developed guidance and information for our moderators to make a fair and informed judgement on each image. Please be sensible in the images you report, and ensure they do in fact contain a minor in a sexual situation – our usual rules regarding ‘abuse of site tools’ will still apply.

A model for change

The outpouring from the community on this issue has been enormous, and it has made us sit up and take notice that so many participants are so committed to the future of the site! We are very grateful to all of you who contributed in a constructive manner to the discussion. Obviously we are committed to the ongoing success of Furry Network, and part of our ethos is to put our egos aside, admit fault, and work to learn and grow from every hiccup along the way.

We are confident this will not be the last time we develop a policy that we end up needing to correct, but as always we are eager to listen to the community’s input and are not afraid to reverse a decision or admit that we were wrong. We believe that adapting to change and being open to feedback is what will make Furry Network successful – combined with dedication to our mission.

Thank you for your patience and consideration while we’ve worked through this decision – it wasn’t an easy one to make, and there were strong opinions on both sides.

We have some great new updates and features lined up for the next week, and we’re eager to put this chapter behind us and keep building a great site the community can be proud of. As always, you can reach out to us on Twitter and via our Support System.

Thanks,
– Varka and the Furry Network team

 

Addendum: Factors we considered

Some of the factors we considered as part of our decision included:

 

Professionalism is a core value of Furry Network, and is something we wish to encourage in our userbase. As such, we expect that a growing number of artists/creators will rely on Furry Network for their livelihood. It is in our and the users’ best interest to put our best foot forward, so that artists are not afraid to be associated with Furry Network. We have data to suggest that this is a factor for some professional artists – a key demographic for us, especially as the site’s capabilities grow to include commissions, and financial transactions completed through the site. In addition, this is something which is important to many other members of the community, as the content and context of the sites they choose to frequent reflect upon them as individuals.

Technical and moderation investments would be required to ensure that this content did not cause issues, if it were retained. There would be complex features that’d need to work perfectly every time, both on the site and in our moderation team, to ensure the content could remain present on the site.

Fairness and impartiality of the decision is a factor, because we could lose respect if we  make a rash decision. We realized that in many ways, the concern here was more about how we come to the decision – with a comparison between “we got complaints about it, so we gave in and banned it” and “we listened patiently to all viewpoints, considered all relevant factors, and made an informed decision that was in the best interests of the community and the site”.

Resources within the community is a factor, because other sites and resources exist that accept and encourage this kind of content. By choosing not to support it, we judged that would not be substantially excluding a portion of the community from participating.

Investment and future of the site is a factor, because we have made a substantial investment into building and supporting the site and its growth. In the interests of the site’s future, it’s advantageous to choose the option which would lead to the best competitive advantage in future.

Legality is a factor, because this type of content is frequently considered a legal “grey area”, with many indications both authoritative and not as to whether it is legal to host in Furry Network’s jurisdiction. In addition, many users are not within Furry Network’s legal jurisdiction, and as such, viewing such content (even accidentally) would be against the law.

Scope creep is a factor – where one type of content may be banned, but through persistent pressure placed upon the site administration, other types of content might be perceived to be next. Furry Network’s future hinges upon balancing creative freedom with the needs of the community – and while it can be claimed that making the decision to ban this kind of content sets a precedent for future censorship, it must be considered in the context of the community’s viewpoint and moral standards of what’s acceptable or not.

Creative freedom is a factor – because Furry Network is committed to providing the maximum creative freedom it can for all users, provided it’s not at the expense of others, and excluding this kind of content from the site is a form of censorship, that limits the freedom of expression of our users.

Duty of care is a factor – because Furry Network has a duty of care to the broader community, to ensure it’s always putting its best foot forward as a prominent, representative member of the community.

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